The build up towards Christmas is warranted. It is a time for families and friends to relax, exchange gifts, share meals and generally enjoy each other’s company, not to mention eat, drink and be merry. It’s about putting the year behind you and toasting to a new year.
Unfortunately, however, happy scenes are not played out in many homes – particularly when parents are separated or divorced and there is tension around who spends time with the children and at what times.
Many happy memories can be created at this time of year but similarly, conflict can create many sad memories for children.
So what can separated and divorced parents do to make Christmas a little easier on themselves and their children?
It is important for Mothers and Fathers to protect their children from dispute, more so at Christmas time, in order to ensure their children can reflect back on positive memories of Christmas. You should therefore always view Christmas as a day for your children, rather than for yourself. That is certainly how the law views it to be.
Many disagreements arise because of the expectation each parent has of what will happen on the day. The best way to avoid a scene or hostility on this very important day for your children is to ensure that you communicate with the other party clearly about your expectations and what arrangements will be made on that day. By planning ahead of time it is more likely that Christmas Day will be a smooth, happy occasion rather than one fraught with hostility.
Coming into Christmas be aware of the child’s perspective of your separation or divorce:
- Most children feel guilt and feel they are “at fault” for the parents separating;
- Coming up to special occasions including Christmas and Easter, children are often tense and anxious, particularly when there has been a history of conflict;
- Children often feel responsible for making their parents happy;
- Many children dream that their parents will get back together. This relates to security, and it is a parent’s obligation to make sure their children feel safe and secure.
- If you are living as part of a blended family, take into account the change of dynamics within your home and the effects of having people “coming and going” from your home upon the children. Discuss this with any new partner and work out arrangements that are “child focused”;
- Spend some quiet time with your children and check on how they are feeling. Children ma y seem well on the face of it but may well be experiencing internal upheaval at this time.
- Always remember, that adults have the capacity to make choices and decisions for their children whereas children don’t. It is therefore the obligation of the adult to act in an adult manner and protect your children from anger and hostility.
- Keep in mind that the other parent will also want to make arrangements that suits their new family situation. You need to accept that your children love their other parent and their extended family as much as they love yours. Therefore, engaging in criticism of the other parent or family is hurtful to your children and only leads to creating further tension for them.
Our top tips for a happy Christmas season are:
- Agree on what is to happen on Christmas Day as early as you can, including the time each parent will spend with the children and the location from which each parent will collect the children to avoid misunderstanding.
- If seeing your former partner is usually a tense affair, enlist the assistance of a family member or friend to do the changeover for you. That way the children are not exposed to conflict.
- Discuss the arrangements that you as parents have made with your children well in advance so as your children know what to expect on the day.
- If your children are old enough and mature enough to express an opinion, give them a voice and ask them what they think of the arrangements you have made.
- Listen closely to your children. Are they truly expressing their own opinion or are they merely reiterating matters they may have heard you discuss?
- Put your children’s wishes before yours.
- Do not allow your children to become embroiled in conflict.
- If your children’s wishes can’t be met, then you must explain to them the reasons why they cannot be met. It is important to note, young children should not be decision makers. That is the parents’ role. Whilst you might hear feedback from your children about why they do not wish to go to the other parent, this may just be a reflection of the children responding to conflict.
- Finally, be flexible. If arrangements have to be amended because the other parties Christmas lunch went a little longer than expected then make alternate arrangements, if possible.
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, it is possible difficulties will still arise. Ultimately, you can only be responsible for your conduct and not the other party’s conduct. If conflict breaks out at Christmas, ensure that you protect your children from the conflict and that you seek advice early in the New Year taking professional advice from either a lawyer or counsellor to manage the conflict.
You may also seek advice from a Lawyer who can explain to you the law regarding arrangements for children and provide you with options available to you. Do not leave this until the last moments before Christmas, as legal issues take time to resolve.
Remember, whilst you may no longer be in a relationship with your former partner, it remains the obligation of each and every parent to protect their children and to foster happy, healthy children protecting them from physical, emotional and psychological abuse.
If this Christmas is fraught with tension and conflict for you, ensure that you are proactive in the New Year and that you take all steps necessary to put family friendly arrangements in place for the following year in order to ensure not only your well being, but also the well being of your children is not compromised.
So, what sort of memories will you be creating for your children this Christmas?
Kathy Matri has been practising solely in Family Law matters for the last 18 years and would be pleased to answer any questions that may arise from this article. Please do not hesitate to call on 02 4322 0251 or email on [email protected].